Characteristics Of Christian Joy
Joy, Salvation, Confidence
Our study of the book of Philippians focuses on the pursuit of joy. But before we can pursue joy we must have some kind of an understanding what this joy is. What does a joyful person look like? How do you distinguish a joyful person from a happy person, or a giddy person, or a foolish person? You can be happy your team won, you can be giddy about a great opportunity, you can act happy yet be under the influence of some substance. So, what is it that makes joy different from these things?
Joy is something that is unaffected by circumstances. It is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. Joy is deep. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. This morning we continue our study of the first 11 verses of Philippians chapter one. And in these verses we can get a good start on understanding some of the characteristics of Christian joy.
IT IS A SHARED JOY
In the opening words following the salutation Paul writes,
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,. . . . It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-5, 7-8)
Paul tells the Philippians that he has been praying for them. But he doesn’t just pray, he prays with joy. And his joy comes “because of your partnership in the gospel”. Paul’s joy is a shared joy. This partnership is more than just spending time together . . . there is a unity, a joy, a purpose that is held in common.
Think about a great experience you’ve had? Perhaps it was the birth of a child. Maybe it was a great buck you got during hunting season. Maybe it was a great honor paid to you or a life-changing insight. Whatever the experience I would venture to say that it was a joy that was made complete as you shared it with others. A shared joy is a deeper joy.
One of the great things about attending a ball game is the chance you have to talk about the last play or to debate strategy with those around you. It wouldn’t be near as much fun if you just listened to the game on the radio. It wouldn’t be as much fun if you were standing on the sideline or sitting in the bleachers by yourself. There is something great about sharing the experience together.
So what is it that Christians share? Let me give you three (of many) things we share. First, we share a common grace. There are many things that divide us. We divide over politics, ethnic issues, gender differences, and personal tastes and interests. But when we come to Christ there is a bond with others that transcends differences. That bond is God’s grace.
The Bible makes it clear that we are accepted into His presence not because of the good we do but because of the mercy He extends. Consequently, we are all on equal footing. No one gets an “edge” when it comes to grace. And I think this is the reason you can go into a gathering of Christians and quickly feel a sense of belonging and oneness. It is an odd thing. You gather with other believers and before you even know them well you are sharing your heart with them. Why does it happen? It happens because of our common grace. Our personal history is irrelevant to our spiritual position.
Second, we share a common burden. Jesus has called us all to do the same thing: glorify Him in our living and testify of Him to our friends and neighbors. We may disagree on the issues of gun control, abortion, the death penalty, and many other issues, but we do agree that there is only one way for people to get to Heaven. We agree that there is only one hope for modern society. And that one way and one hope is Jesus. We are people working together to get the message out. We work together in this privileged and joyful task.
Finally, we share a common hope. We are all looking forward to meeting and being with Jesus. As we will see in this letter, this hope will enable us to have joy in the midst of trials. This hope makes us content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. This hope is what helps us find joy even as we stand at the fresh dug grave of someone we love.
As we worship together we exalt our God who is actively involved in the happenings of the world. He is guiding the course of history. These is coming a day when He will draw all things to their appropriate and intended conclusion. We live with hope . . . and that is not something that characterizes most of the world.
IT IS A CONFIDENT JOY
In my experience, Paul’s next statement is one of the greatest reasons for joy we have,
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:6]
This is a very significant verse. Paul is noted for his deep theology couched in simple statements. Notice at least three things Paul affirms in this simple passage.
First, it was God who began the work of salvation. In other words, God is the one responsible for our salvation. The Bible tells us that even faith is something that God creates in us. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but on His grace. It is not anchored in how obedient we are (we all fall short here). Our salvation is based in the work that God has done.
Listen to the words of Jesus in John 6,
The Spirit give life; the flesh counts for nothing…He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him. . . . From this time many of his disciple turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:63-66)
These words are still difficult to hear. We live in a world where we hear that flesh counts for everything. We believe that we are masters of our own destiny. So did the people of Jesus’ day . . . that’s why they stopped following Him. But the Bible is clear, unless God first works in us, we will never come to Him. He is responsible for our salvation . . . and only He is responsible.
Second, God continues the work of salvation. We are told that He “began” the work. Salvation is a process. We do not become perfect believers at the moment of our conversion. Like life, we are born spiritual infants and we need time to grow. Christians stumble. Christians make mistakes. We are people “in the process” of salvation.
How quick we are to forget this truth. We lose our joy often because we are frustrated by our own failures. We expect perfection and become discouraged when we don’t reach it. While it is true that we certainly should be seeking to be perfect . . . it is also true that we are not perfect people. When we become followers of Christ, He BEGINS the work. I love the sentiment in the popular saying, “please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.”
Third, God will finish what He started. This is such an important truth. It is the basis of our confidence, our peace, our joy. God will finish what He has started in us. We call this the doctrine of the Perseverance of the saints, or the doctrine of Eternal Security. The Bible tells us that NOTHING will separate us from Him. (Romans 8:31-39);
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28, 29)
Do you understand what Jesus is telling us? He is saying that once we give our lives to Him He will never let us go. NEVER. The true believer . . . the person who has really begun to experience the start of God’s transformation, is a person who has received a deposit (the Holy Spirit) which GUARANTEES our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14).
Much of Christian teaching today misses this element of confidence. The focus is on human responsibility. The opinion of a big part of the church is that God provides the road to salvation and it is up to us whether we want to get on the road and stay on the road. We can get off at any time. We can get lost, we can become disoriented, and unless we stay on the road we won’t get to Heaven. But that is not what Paul is teaching!
You see, both those who believe in eternal security, and those who don’t, believe that only those who endure to the end will be saved. Where we disagree is how we get to “the end.” The one group says that we will get to the end by our effort and the other (I believe the Scriptural view) says that we will get there by God’s effort.
When presented with the doctrine of eternal security many people bristle. They say, “this violates our freedom.” But they are looking at it wrong. Suppose you were in the middle of a big lake. You get sick and you can no longer swim. The lifeguard swims out to you and grabs onto you. He begins the process of bringing you back to shore. Sensing your anxiety he says to you, “don’t worry, I won’t let you go”. Now, do you complain that your freedom has been violated? No, because you know you are helpless. You cannot make it on your own. The only hope you have is for the lifeguard to take hold of you . . . and never let you go. You welcome his firm grip. And as the lifeguard swims closer and closer to the shore you begin to relax and feel more and more confident. With every stroke you believe that the lifeguard is true to his word . . . He will bring you home. He will not let you go.
It is the same with our salvation. We are not offended by God’s promise because we know that without it we would inevitably drift away. We are helpless without Him. If my salvation depended on my ability to stay the course, I would turn the wrong direction.
But that leads to a second objection, eternal security leads to passive faith. The idea is this: if we know that salvation is guaranteed, then we will stop working. But this also to misunderstand God’s salvation. Salvation is a process. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us who is pushing us to Christlikeness.
Can we resist? Sure we can. Are there some people who seem to fall away from the faith? Yes, there are. How do we explain this? In two ways. First, there are many who profess faith but don’t possess it. They are in the church, they may have had a moving experience . . . but they have not really trusted Christ. Some of these people do fall away as they seek their next “high”. But there are also some who resist the Lord and are really believers.
Let’s go back to the lifeguard analogy again. If you fight the lifeguard, he will either take a stronger hold (and it may hurt) or he may eventually draw away from you. He will let you wear yourself out. But he will not let you drown. When you are ready to stop fighting him, He will bring you back to safety. You will be miserable as long as you resist.
So it is with the believer. We can fight God. We can resist His work in our life but it is foolish. God will allow us to kick and scream. He will let us fight and wear ourselves out with our foolishness. But eventually we will tire and then He will continue His work. He will not let us drown. He may have to use strong tactics to save us . . . but He will save us. Joy comes from resting. It comes from trusting Him. If we lack joy it is likely that it is because we are struggling against the One who would save us for His glory.
The doctrine of eternal security means,
- we can be bold rather than tentative
- we can be confident rather than nervous
- we can be grateful rather than uncertain
- we can rejoice rather than be afraid
IT IS AN INCREASING JOY
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. [Phil. 1:9-11]
Paul is praying that the believers would continue to grow. They are sure of their destiny but they should also be progressing in the faith. The Christian life is not static . . . it is growing. We experience joy as we see ourselves becoming more and more like Christ. But do you see how unusual this is? This is not the experience most Christians have. For most of us we begin our Christian life in a cloud of joy and then it gradually dissipates. By the time we have been a believer for a couple of years we are often just “going through the motions”. Faith has become lifeless. That’s why Paul’s prayer is so significant for us.
He prays that our love may abound more and more. But He is not just asking that we feel more strongly about each other (though that is certainly a part of the process), He wants us to grow more and more in our love for the Father. This is a love that is not just emotion . . . it is based in our knowledge and depth of insight. As we learn more about the Lord, we love Him more completely. And as we love the Lord more fully, we see change in several areas:
- in our wisdom. We grow in our understanding and love for the Lord and we are better able to tell the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. We understand better how to help and encourage each other. And we come to understand how God wants us to serve in His church.
- in our character. We see and pursue that which is “best, pure, and blameless.” As we grow in our knowledge and love of Christ, it will make a difference in the kind of people we are. We will be more consistent, more compassionate, more godly. The more we grow the less holes there should be in our character. We won’t be perfect but we should be better people than we used to be. We will be filled with the fruit of righteousness. In other words, we are living more godly (righteous) lives.
- in our service. We will be living our lives and bringing God glory. We will see every opportunity as an opportunity to honor Him. Christianity is meant to be practical. The idea of an unchanged believer is a contradiction in terms.
We live joyfully because we really are on a “Great Adventure”. We went white water rafting last year. At first we got into the water and enjoyed maneuvering the boat in the current. We faced a couple of “little rapids” and really enjoyed them. But as the journey continued we faced some more fierce rapids. The enjoyment in the later was much superior to the former. We would have missed the fun of the good rapids if we had gotten out of the water after the “little rapids.”
The Christian life is like that. We miss out if we stop progressing. The initial stages of the faith are enjoyable but they are nothing compared with what God will introduce us to as we continue to travel with Him. We must “stay the course.”
The work of God in us is like the work of building a house. At times you see great progress (like when a carpenter is putting up the frame of the structure). But at other times progress seems slow or non-existent (such as when you are doing finish work such as sanding, staining and so forth). But it is all part of the process. The Christian life consists of both. There are times when you will see rapid growth and dramatic change in your life. Thank God for those times. But at other times you may feel that God has stopped working in your life. But that will never happen . . . He may be doing some finish work on some areas of your character before He begins in another area of your life. It could be that you are fighting Him in the process by your reckless living (akin to bad weather to the builder). But He has not stopped His work . . . He will continue it until that great and glorious day when He calls us home to Himself.
So, how do we cooperate in reaching a point where love abounds? How do we keep from hindering the building process?
- do a personal and spiritual inventory regularly. Keep measuring your life by Christ.
- be open to instruction and repent of sin that is revealed to you . . . rather than being defensive be teachable.
- get to know God through reading the Bible, prayer, worship, meditation (or listening), and fellowshipping with other believers.
- obey what you understand in God’s Word.to be telling you to do
This morning we have seen some of the characteristics of a joyful Christian Heart. It is a shared joy. It is not something that is isolated and individual, it is a joy we share with millions around the world and makes us part of a tremendous movement of God.
It is also a joy that is anchored in God’s work and promise. We are confident of our eternal destiny not because of our goodness but because of His. Telling others that you are going to Heaven is not arrogance (unless you think you are going there because you are better than most people), it is a confident declaration based on God’s promise.
The Christians joy is an adventure that involves growth taking place in our lives. As we grow in faith old prejudices are overcome, hurts of the past give way to the freedom that comes from forgiveness. Our desires focus less on earth and more on Heaven. Our behavior looks more like Christ than it does the Devil. And we find it easier to trust Him in the tough times. Christian joy deepens as the years go by.
And it all starts when we receive God’s gift of salvation. This joy will not begin until we stop running away from God and run to Him. It starts when we stop trying to earn His favor and instead rest in His grace.
Have you begun this joyful journey? I know you are a part of the church. I know you have had some meaningful experiences here. But that’s not the question. The question is: do you belong to Him? Joy comes from relationship. Joy comes when we know that whatever happens we are held in the arms of the Father. Joy comes when we come to love Him more than anything the world has to offer. . . and every once in a while joy overflows when we see a bit of His resemblance in our own mirror.